Matter Chatter

The problem with Gmail Priority Inbox

First, a disclosure: I am an unashamed Google fan-boy.  And, as a service, I’m sure Gmail Priority Inbox will shine like most of the others. The problem is, it is just one more crutch for individuals to use in dealing with too much email.

Rather than relying on advanced technology or systems for processing our email overload, let’s collectively change the behaviors that lead to it. In my own personal dream world, we’d have a standardized set of email rules of engagement that would include:

– We will use email for sharing information and documenting decisions, not for debate and deliberation

– We will reasonably possible, we will endeavor to talk first, type second

– We will emulate Jerry Seinfeld in the episode entitled “The Face Painter“, in which he declares ” I’m taking a stand against all this over thanking.” In email, we will assume that the “Thanks.” is implied or sign off with some version of “Thanks in advance”

– We will require that all e-newsletters, promotional emails, etc. must be opt-in

– We will really think about whether “all” need to see the message before using “reply all”

Those five rules alone would likely eliminate the majority of what drives us crazy about email.

What do you think? Are these rules reasonable? Am I really dreaming to think we could collectively change our behavior in a meaningful way?

  • Robby Slaughter

    I agree completely. In fact, I wrote an article last week about why Google Priority Inbox is a terrible idea.. I wrote a follow up on what Google should do instead.

    We need to rethink email.

  • Keith Trivitt

    Great points all around. I’m a big fan of the first point re: using e-mail only to let people know of action items, next steps or some type of follow-up point, rather than as a virtual conference room for everyone in a company to hash out plans and ideas. Those types of e-mail interactions typically turn into a mess, leave people frustrated and confused and are a major time and productivity drain on everyone involved.

    It’s been said many times before, but if more businesses actually reverted back to the old days of having people call each other to work through issues, problems or plans, rather than hash that out via e-mail, the business community would finally live up to the promise of the Internet of making us all far more productive.

  • Jesse Ciccone

    Thanks, Robby. I really like your take on “conflict-avoidance for email”. Hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s a very clever characterization!

    The issue I continue to have is that all we ever hear about is stuff the recipient can do to better deal with email. Doesn’t matter if it’s Priority Inbox to Inbox Zero to GTD to spam filters and even simply unsubscribing from newsletters, the burden remains on the receiving end of email. To be sure, I use many of these techniques (and my email is finally actually quite manageable these days), but we need to get people to start re-thinking what they are sending in the first place.